From the best-selling author of Tapas: The Little Dishes of Spain and The Foods and Wines of Spain.
Unless they have traveled to spain, most Americans have never tasted a really good paella. What passes for paella at restaurants and even in cookbooks here is a pale imitation of the real thing, the vibrant Spanish rice dish that marries the robust flavors of olive oil, garlic, tomatoes, and pepper with short-grain rice, broth, and meat, fish, or vegetables. Penelope Casas is here to restore the glorious paella to its rightful place as a grain-based meal that will gratify the senses as well as be the centerpiece for easy, elegant entertaining.
Casas presents sixty different fascinating paellas, some traditional, some her own creation, showing how easily some of the preparation can be done ahead of time with supermarket ingredients. She includes a superior collection of tapas, the Spanish meal starters, two dozen simple desserts, and a handful of broths and sauces. Her passion for paella, her clear directions, and her creative pairings of fresh ingredients make this unusual cookbook a winner.
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Penelope Casas is the author of three well-respected books on Spanish cuisine: !Delicioso! The Regional Cooking of Spain; Tapas, The Little Dishes of Spain; and The Foods and Wines of Spain. She lives near New York City.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
A Passion for Paella Valencia: Home of Paella Clearing Up a Few Misconceptions Tips for a Perfect Paella A Few Tricks Pairing Spanish Wines with Paella
Paella, among the best known and most beloved dishes in the world, has been my passion ever since I first tasted it in Spain over thirty years ago. And yet I have little enthusiasm for the paellas I have eaten outside of Spain. The horrors that have befallen this exquisite dish and the indignities it has suffered! Paella transforms rice, the sustenance of at least half of the world's population, into a brilliantly complex and exceedingly baroque creation. Praise for paella comes from all quarters, and paella recipes appear in most all-purpose American cookbooks. Yet even the most respected chefs and cookbook authors have little understanding of how extraordinary paella can be when authentically prepared. They have perpetuated misconceptions that continue to deprive Americans who eat out and cook at home of the true greatness of paella. Paella is not a steamed rice, cooked in a covered pan, but generally a "dry" rice that cooks uncovered in a wide, flat paella pan. It is not bright orange (that comes from artificial coloring), and it is not a precooked pot of Uncle Ben's rice to which lobster, chicken, and clams have been strewn on top to give a pretty appearance and to disguise what is usually very ordinary rice. Garnishes, in fact, are totally secondary to paella and among their least important features. A paella should never be judged by its toppings; paellais visually striking in itself and needs little additional adornment. The texture and flavor of the rice is everything, and that flavor depends on the ingredients that are combined with the rice and from which the rice soaks up its flavors. Plain rice, after all, is like a painter's canvas waiting to be transformed into a work of art. For me, the best paella is not the typical mixture of seafood, meat, and sausage that we have come to call paella. Such paellas are frowned upon in Valencia, the area of Spain that is paella's homeland, because they do not allow each ingredient to be savored and appreciated on its own merits. The best paellas highlight special ingredients--meat, fish, or vegetables. That is why you will find only a handful of so-called mixed paellas in this book. Authentic paella is always made with short-grain rice because it absorbs flavors far more readily than long-grain converted rice (which is parboiled before you buy it) and is immensely more exciting in taste and texture. Serious cooks would not dream of using long-grain rice to make risotto, so why accept it in paella where it is equally inappropriate? The cooking methods and ingredients for paella and risotto may not be the same, but the concept of combining short-grain rice with a variety of ingredients is indeed quite similar. My mission is to rescue the glorious paella that I know and love from worldwide ignominy where it has languished for decades. The time is ripe; interest in grains and in the health-giving Mediterranean diet is at an all-time high. And the Spanish diet in particular, based on the robust flavors of olive oil, garlic, tomatoes, and peppers--all of which enter into paella--has put Spain in the enviable position as the country with the world's third highest life expectancy. Paella represents just one region of Spain, and each region is a world unto itself. Indeed, Spain compresses the variety of a continent into a country no bigger than Texas. You will find regions of soaring peaks, vast plains, deserts, and thick forests--each with its distinctive culture, a product of many ancient civilizations that passed through the Iberian Peninsula and left their mark. Cooking in Spain is equally varied: extraordinary seafood along the extensive coast; baby lamb and suckling pig, roasted in brick vaulted ovens from the plains of Castile; gazpacho and cooling vinaigrettes from the south, where a strong Moorish influence brought the scents of cumin, coriander, and nutmeg to the cooking; and, of course, paella from the eastern coast, often called the Region of the Rices. Correcting preconceived notions about paella has certainly been an uphill battle, but progress has been made. Some restaurants in America are now preparing paellas in the traditional manner, and my hope is that Paella! will make Americans realize what they have been missing all these years. Curiously, despite its mistreatment, paella's popularity never fades, no matter what the food fashion of the moment happens to be. Valencia: Home of Paella A trip to Spain for me is never complete without a visit to paella's native land, the region on Spain's eastern coast officially designated País Valencià (Valencian Country), but commonly called El Levante (land of the rising sun, because it is here that Spain greets the day). El Levante also refers to Murcia, the region to the south that also produces and prepares rice. The País Valencià comprises the provinces of Castellón de la Plana, Valencia, and Alicante, and as you head south close to the Mediterranean coast, you will discover the region's special beauty: In the narrow corridor between the rugged imposing mountains to the west and the sea, the mighty rivers Júcar and Turia deposit rich alluvial soil, forming pancake-flat land. In this warm, humid, sun-drenched area, everything thrives, creating what is often called the Garden of Spain. Orange trees beyond number carpet the land in the province of Castellón de la Plana; farther south as you approach Valencia, small family plots (huertas), which produce the glistening fresh vegetables that are important to every paella, begin to appear. Once past the city of Valencia, vast rice fields dominate the landscape, creating a veritable carpet of bright green rice shoots in summer that competes in beauty with the nearby deep blue Mediterranean. In the rice fields, stooped laborers shaded from the sun by wide-brimmed straw hats plod the marshy land, and whitewashed, straw-thatched workers' cottages (barracas) dot the rice paddies. The immense lagoon of La Albufera ("little sea" in the Arab tongue) forms the nexus between the swampy rice fields and the Mediterranean; crude, single-sailed sampanlike boats ply the water that is alive with eels, jumping fish, croaking frogs, and aquatic birds. Few sights in Spain rival the splendor and tranquility of a sunset over La Albufera. The Albufera and the rice fields always cast a spell on me; it's as if I have left Spain and entered some magical, exotic land. The bounty of El Levante, showcased at Valencia's enormous central market, would not have been possible without the ingenuity of the Moors, who arrived from North Africa almost thirteen hundred years ago. They created elaborate irrigation systems to channel river water from the mountains that otherwise would be lost to the sea. To this day a water tribunal composed of town elders meets every Thursday morning on the steps of Valencia's cathedral to settle water disputes, and although they are not backed by any legal authority, their decisions are ironclad; there is no higher court of appeal. The Moors also introduced rice, known by its Moorish name, arroz, to the region, as well as saffron (an Arab word that refers to the yellow color saffron gives). All this set the scene for the creation of paella several centuries later. Many paellas are in fact called arroz con (rice with) followed by the names of the key ingredients. Paella bestows an aura on the Valencia region, for it is not merely a regional food specialty but part of the very fiber of Valencian life. It is a diet staple, eaten daily, usually for lunch, themain meal of the day, and occasionally for dinner (Valencians consume more than fifty pounds of rice per person each year). Depending on what is combined with the rice, paella can be a poor man's meal or a deluxe extravaganza. Paella in Valencia simply cannot be surpassed. Although the region's water is not among the tastiest to drink (and just try to rinse the suds from your hair with it), when it is used to cook the rice (or to make broth for the rice), it contributes to a perfect paella. Then there is the rice itself, local varieties that are short grained and low in starch. Particularly outstanding is arroz bomba, a relatively rare rice used by some of the best restaurants, which expands like an accordion when cooked and is unique in texture (to obtain it, see Sources). The region's long tradition of preparing rice has made every Valencian a master of paella. Men who wouldn't dream of entering the kitchen are often in charge of an outdoor paella. There are also authentic paella maestros, known in the region for their superlative skills. These chefs often take their shows on the road, organizing paella fests for hundreds (even thousands), and the entire meal is made in a single paella pan. The Guinness Book of World Records lists a paella for fifty thousand people made with ten thousand pounds of rice in a paella pan sixty feet across. Although I did not witness that event, I was present for a paella made for five hundred by my friend Ximo and his son Nacho from La Tasca del Puerto restaurant. Organized in a remote setting in the mountains west of Castellón de la Plana, it was a lively outdoor summer affair. As impossible as it may seem, the paella was cooked to perfection. So many of my fondest remembrances of Spain are connected to paella, and I am still sometimes surprised at the lengths to which my husband, Luis, and I will go to eat our favorite paellas. We once drove like demons to reach La Tasca del Puerto, portside in Castellón de la Plana, before dining hours were over because we craved the restaurant's sensational Black Squid Rice. On another occasion we braved a torrential downpour that threatene...
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